Cuba’s relationship with bikes goes back just a couple of decades. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the 1991 oil crash left the island with little choice but to reduce their dependency on cars.
In doing so to cycle became more commonplace and all across Cuba people turned from motor-vehicles to bicycles, producing around half a million bikes in-country and importing a million or so more from China.
Although transport by car is more common now, the two-wheel legacy still lives on and many Cubans still travel by bike today, leaving the roads relatively traffic-free.
Bike lanes and safe places to park are common features in Cuba and much of the country is flat, with decent-enough road surfaces.
And with private car ownership extremely rare during the oil crisis, or ‘special time’ as it’s known in Cuba, Cubans have developed an ingrained culture of respect for cyclists, with motorists still remembering the era when bike travel was the norm for everyone.
Cycling in Cuba is also one of the best ways to truly get to grips with the island. Diverting you away from the all-inclusive holiday resorts and bright lights of Havana, cycling holidays will introduce you to the rolling lowlands, Caribbean coastlines, colonial towns, historic heartlands and patchwork plantations of real Cuba. And, with the tropical climate moderated by north-easterly trade winds year round, any time of year is good to get on your bike here.
Havana is the entry point for most visitors so, after soaking up the crumbling colonial buildings, addictive salsa beats and potent Havana rum in Cuba’s colonial capital – it’s got to be done – peddle out of the city towards forested limestone hills, sprawling tobacco fields, dense forests and picture-postcard beaches.
There are stacks of options for self-guided cycling holidays, with the 175km road from Santiago de Cuba to Marea del Portillo; the Sancti Spiritus to Cienfuegos route; and the Pinar del Rio province (north of Havana), all favourites amongst cycling aficionados.
Others prefer to plan their cycle routes around particular attractions: the ‘Valley of the Sugar Mills’ is a top destination for many – a former hub for sugar production, where old colonial homes crumble in the countryside.
Trinidad, one of Cuba’s most beautiful colonial towns, is another key destination – this UNESCO World Heritage Site is famed for its red-tiled roofs, ornate balconies and cobblestone streets.
And mountain-lovers rave about the views from Sierra Maestra – Cuba’s highest mountain range. Cruising the Caribbean coastline and stopping off at historic landmarks, such as the Bay of Pigs, is also hard to beat.
Cycling holidays provide the perfect opportunity to understand Cuba’s warm hearted people and get under the skin of their infectious culture. Heart felt hellos, or holas, will come your way as you cycle through rural villages and hands will wave out of windows as the old American cars that Cuba is renowned for, make their way past you.
Staying with the locals is part of the tourist culture here, and families with spare bedrooms are licensed by the Cuban authorities to provide B&B style accommodation – a great way to stop en-route and experience Cuban home cooking and authentic, everyday life.
Music comes as part of the package when visiting Cuba. Salsa beats, folk songs and classical guitar music waft out of bars and bedroom windows, and evening entertainment can always expected, even in the smallest settlements.
It’s easy to find places to make minor repairs to your bike and fix punctures, but if you’re bringing your own fancy road-bike from home, you’re likely to get stuck for spare parts.
Unless you’re planning an adventurous, multi-week island tour, you’re probably better off hiring a bike here, or travelling with a specialist cycle tour company.
From one day jaunts to month-long adventures, the opportunities for cycling in Cuba are immense. Cycle-able routes criss-cross the country, making Cuba’s well-known attractions as well as its hidden treasures, easily accessible.
Some cyclists even choose to tackle the full length of the island and cycle across Cuba – a route which is best approached from the south, with the wind on your back helping you along.
But if you’re restricted on time, to see the more of the island as well as experience the added benefits that come with travelling by bike, combination bike and bus tours offer the best of both worlds, allowing you to cover larger distances by bus and getting into the saddle for the quainter roads and most memorable sections.
For more cycling blogs and guides, check out: Italian Bike Tours: Powered by Pasta / Buying a road bike and living with it / 5 cycle safety tips for commuters /Carrera Virago Reviewed: Tech Specs/ Mountain Bike Nutrition: How to choose an energy bar
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